Supervisors make ex-foster children a focus of budget

Emancipated foster children were among the biggest winners in last-minute adjustments to the county’s $1.6 billion budget approved Wednesday by supervisors.

More than $360,000 in money was earmarked for expanded foster care services meant to set those about to leave the foster program on the right track, according to officials.

Already included in the budget was $750,000 for the purchase of a dormitory-style living facility for about 10 youths in South San Francisco.

Tacked on to that was $250,000 in seed money for the eventual purchase of a similar facility in the southern portion of the county, the location of which is yet to be determined.

Half of the youth who leave the foster care system as young adults become homeless within two years, said Supervisor Mark Church, who has been instrumental in pushing for expanded services.

Foster youth housing stipends also got a boost of $60,000 for a total of $360,000 annually.

Twenty additional youths, for a total of 50, willbenefit from the program that provides a stipend that decreases every six months in two years.

The county also set aside $53,000 for 20 individual savings accounts, in which the county will match, dollar-for-dollar, money set aside by employed foster youth from ages 15 to 22, said Church.

“These are youth that are the most vulnerable and at the most risk of becoming homeless and entering the criminal justice system,” Church said.

“It is in everyone’s best interest to seeing them become contributing members of society and that is what we’re hoping to accomplish.”

The $1.6 billion 2006-07 fiscal budget is an increase of 4 percent over a year earlier.

Assistant Budget Director Jim Saco said that much of the increase will go to pay the salaries of 32 additional staff for the newly constructed juvenile hall, which is set to open in September, as well as 42 additional posts for mental health services created under state Proposition 63, a tax on millionaires approved by voters in 2004.

Passing a balanced budget meant tapping into reserves to the tune of $100 million to stave off fire station brownouts in unincorporated parts of the county, avoid cutting much-needed road maintenance and help subsidize the taxpayer-funded medical center, which provides indigent care at a cost of $70 million, officials said.

Supervisors also plan to dip into reserves in fiscal 2007-08, while attempting to find additional revenue sources to backfill the ongoing budget shortfall.

“In fiscal 2008 and beyond, we begin to see deficits, so we need to begin to take steps to address that,” county Manager John Maltbie has said previously of the long-term budget forecast.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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